In their constant search for new ways to stay thin, Hollywood embraced a new fad in 2023 in the form of the injectable type-2 diabetes drug called Ozempic.
Promoted as a way to keep weight down, the medication tricks the brain into thinking the belly is full and suppresses the drive to consume more calories.
Setting aside questions over its effectiveness, there's a serious downside to relying on the medication for weight loss in the long term – it's seriously boring.
How does Ozempic work?
Ozempic is one of several brand names for a type-2 diabetes medication called semaglutide; a synthetic compound that looks similar enough to the naturally occurring hormone glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) that it triggers the same activities in the body.
One such function is the release of insulin, which is why GLP-1-like medications are commonly prescribed for those whose pancreas needs a little encouragement to produce enough of the sugar-absorbing messenger.
Meanwhile, any increase in GLP-1 also tells our brain that we've just eaten. Satisfied there's enough sugar floating through our system for the time being, our brain no longer feels compelled to seek out snacks.
Studies on semaglutide have shown it also has a suppressing effect on appetite, leading to an average of about 15 percent weight loss in people who were overweight or obese. Branded as Wegovy, semaglutide was approved for use as a chronic weight loss treatment in the US in 2021.
That doesn't mean Ozempic also has approval as a weight loss treatment, in spite of consisting of the same active ingredient and being produced by the same company.
Not that it has stopped celebrities and other influencers from sharing stories of their experimentation with the drug, generating buzz over its potential.
Are there any risks in taking Ozempic to lose weight?
Aside from a handful of potential digestive discomforts, such as nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting, Ozempic and other semaglutide medications so far seem relatively harmless.
Yet weight loss medication based on the appetite-suppressing effects of GLP-1 aren't new. Receptor agonists and molecular analogs that bind to the same GLP-1 receptors have been around for years.
According to Jens Juul Holst, a medical researcher at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, there's one massive issue with this class of treatment.
"Do people stay on them? No, they don't," Holst told journalist Matt Reynolds for an interview in Wired.
"It's just like every other drug, they don't stay on it for many reasons."
Though we can only guess at many of those reasons, Holst explains simple satisfaction is likely to play a big part in going off the medication.
Appetite, like sex drive, incentivizes activities that aren't just biologically favorable – they're fun. Robbed of our ability to desire food, we're less inclined to continue treatment, raising the risk of falling back into old habits.
"That may eventually be a problem, that once you've been on this for a year or two, life is so miserably boring that you can't stand it any longer and you have to go back to your old life," Holst proposes.
That doesn't mean Wegovy or other approved GLP-1 type drugs can't play a role in losing weight, especially in combination with other therapies and guidance on how to turn healthy eating and physical activity into life-long routines.
But for most of the population, taking Ozempic for weight loss is destined to be a fad, one that threatens to take precious doses away from those who need it most.
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